iPads, Plato, & Providence

Kindle-LibraryIn a recent article for Intercollegiate Review, “What Kindle Readers Should Take from Plato,” writer Elisabeth Cervantes explores the danger that “lies where technology begins to replace memory, thinking, and the discipline needed to learn” — a trend Providence’s classical model of education seeks to avoid.

An excerpt from Plato’s Phaedrus recounts a long-ago warning concerning the invention of writing:

[quote source=””]Theuth: ‘O King, here is something [writing] that, once learned, will make the Egyptians wiser and will improve their memory; I have discovered a potion for memory and wisdom.’[/quote]

[quote source=””]The King: ‘And now your affection for it has made you describe its effects as the opposite of what they really are. . . it will introduce forgetfulness into the soul of those who learn it; they will not practice using their memory because they will put their trust in writing, which is external and depends on signs that belong to others, instead of trying to remember from the inside, completely on their own. You provide your students with the appearance of wisdom, not with its reality. Your invention will enable them to hear many things without being properly taught, and they will imagine that they have come to know much, while for the most part they will know nothing. And they will be difficult to get along with, since they will merely appear to be wise instead of really being so.’[/quote]

The dangers Plato’s King ascribes to the innovation of writing attend the use of more recent innovations as well, Ms. Cervantes notes, such as the Nook and Kindle devices proudly incorporated in classes by many colleges and high schools due to perceived efficiency and productivity.  Among other things, the abuse of these implements can lead to: 1) using the device for text-searching to find a word or passage in a book, 2) the student presuming to become the master of the book instead of surrendering to the organizing logic of the book, 3) an inability to see the parts in relation to an entire body of thought due to a loss of context, 4) information being mistaken for knowledge, and 5) technology beginning to replace memory, thinking, and the discipline needed to learn.

In contrast, true, classical learning drives us to accept the wholeness of a book, coming to the material as learners rather than masters, and recognizing the authors’ intent that their works be read as wholes.

While inventions can be good and useful, we must employ them carefully. At Providence, our commitment to educate the whole person, cultivating wisdom as well as knowledge, virtue as well as proficiency, and eloquence in all that is good, true, and beautiful is served by coming not to master great books via technological dissection, but to know them cover to cover.

— Mr. Bill Klousia, Upper School Latin and Greek Teacher